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Seed-Storage Times and Viability


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Virtually all home-garden-supply seed houses supply seed in far too great a quantity for the average home gardener (even those that famously sell small packets at lower prices). The home gardener will thus often want to save seeds bought one year for use in a later year. The question that must arise, then, is how long can we keep seeds and still expect them to germinate and grow when planted?

There are no exact answers: seeds are living things. Moreover, much depends on how the seed is stored. And there is no drop-dead cutoff point either, just reduced percentages of germination, and what is "too low" a germination rate may vary from gardener to gardener (and even fresh, newly bought seeds will not invariably germinate 100%).

Before going on to numbers, let us give you a few links that explain storage principles:

In short, best storage conditions are those that are the exact opposite of what makes a seed want to sprout. Seeds "know" to sprout when temperatures go up, and fluctuate greatly, when exposed to light, and when warm; so we want to keep storage seed in the dark, very dry, at a low, even temperature.

Those conditions are pretty easily achieved--surplus "ammo cases" are widely sold at low price, they make a watertight (and probably airtight) seal, and are of a size convenient for storing a lot of seed packets. Stash your seed packets in the case, drop in a packet or two of a dissicant (moisture-absorbing agent, like silica gel)--a thing also widely sold inexpensively--and put the box where it will stay at a cool (circa 50° F.) and steady temperature (you can, at an extreme, always bury it a foot or two down in the ground).

(Those are approximate, not exact, instructions--read the web pages linked above for more detail.)

But that doesn't answer the question. What does is the Tables below. The first is by rough longevity, the second sheerly alphabetical by vegetable. The data are our combining of information from several sources: those sources do not always agree perfectly, but we have taken the most conservative (fewest years) figues for these tables. But, again: these are rough estimates for well-stored seed.

 
Relative Longevity of Well-Stored Vegetable Seed
(by years)
kind of seed relative longevity (years)
Collards 5
Corn salad (mache) 5
Cress 5
Cucumber 5
Endive 5
Lettuce 5
Muskmelon ("Cantelope") 5
Beets 4
Brussels Sprouts 4
Cabbage 4
Cauliflower 4
Chard, Swiss 4
Chicory 4
Eggplant 4
Kale 4
Pumpkin 4
Radish 4
Rutabaga 4
Sorrel 4
Squash 4
Tomato 4
Turnip 4
Watermelon 4
Asparagus 3
Beans 3
Broccoli 3
Cabbage, Chinese 3
Carrot 3
Celeriac 3
Celery 3
Kohlrabi 3
New Zealand Spinach 3
Pea 3
Corn, sweet 2
Leek 2
Okra 2
Pepper 2
Onion 1
Parsley 1
Parsnip 1
Salsify 1
Scorzonera 1
Spinach 1

 
Relative Longevity of Well-Stored Vegetable Seed
(alphabetical by vegetable)
kind of seed relative longevity (years)
Asparagus 3
Beans 3
Beets 4
Broccoli 3
Brussels sprouts 4
Cabbage 4
Cabbage, Chinese 3
Carrot 3
Cauliflower 4
Celeriac 3
Celery 3
Chard, Swiss 4
Chicory 4
Corn, sweet 1
Collards 5
Corn Salad (mache) 5
Cress 5
Cucumber 5
Eggplant 4
Endive 5
Kale 4
Kohlrabi 3
Leek 2
Lettuce 5
Muskmelon ("Cantelope") 5
New Zealand Spinach 3
Okra 2
Onion 1
Parsley 1
Parsnip 1
Pea 3
Pepper 2
Pumpkin 4
Radish 4
Rutabaga 4
Salsify 1
Scorzonera 1
Sorrel 4
Spinach 1
Squash 4
Tomato 4
Turnip 4
Watermelon 4

(Or see the list sorted by years.)




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